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excellent gifts ; the justness and propriety of this language will manifestly appear. The coldness of our hearts, and deadness of our affections in worship, ought, on the one hand, to be imputed to ourselves as the immediate and sinful cause, and, on the other, may be considered as a part of God's most holy providence, who withdraws his Spirit in righteous judgment. Thus the Pfalmist very beautifully says, Pf. Ixv. 4. “ Blesed is the man whom " thou chufft, and causeft to approach unto thee, that he “ may dwell in thy courts.” And thus the spirit of supplication is a remarkable gospel-promise: Zech. xii. Io. “ And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon " the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of “ fupplications, and they shall look upon me whom they “ have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one “ mourreth for his only son, and fhall be in bitterness for “ him, as one that is in bitterness for his first born.”
My brethren, there is the greatest reason for every Chrijiian, not only to wrestle against a slothful disposition as a fin, but to fear its influence as a judgment; for if among spiritual judgments it holds a chief place, whien God giveth “ the spirit of slumber; eyes that they should “ not fee, and ears that they should not liear;" it ought to be trenied in the same manner with all other obftructions, that is to say, encountered by vigorous resistance. Like all other enemies, it acquires courage by success; like all other fins, it is strengthened by indulgence. And yet, alas ! how often is this very circumstarce made use of as an excuse for the omission of prayer ? When the Christian finds himself lifelefs and indisposed to prayer, it makes him either neglect it altogether, or slur over the performance in a careless and trifling manner, saying to himself, “ I am not now in a fit temper for it.” Nay, sometimes he reasons himself even religiously out of his duty, faying, “ I shall but dishonor Gol by such a heart« less facrifice ; and therefore I had better delay it till I “ be in a frame that is fitter for it.” But if the time and other circumstances call for the duty, our own indisposition of heart is, of all others, the most fcolish and criminal excuse. How much better would it be to wrelile as Jacob
in the text, and infist upon the blessing; which cannot be more sensibly illustrated with respect to this particular branch, then by mentioning to you a resolution which an eminent Christian entered into for his own practice : That he would not be baffled by a treacherous fpirit; for he would never give over the work of praise, till his affections were stirred, and he was brought to a sense of gratitude for divine goodness; and that he would never give over enumerating and confefling his fins, till his heart was melted in contrition and penitential forrow !
5. I may mention one other difficulty with which we have to firuggle in prayer, viz. when it pleases God to poftpone, for a season, his compliance with our requests. Though his ears are always open to the cry of his people, he sometimes carries in such a manner, as if they were fast closed against them. Though their petitions be offered up in faith, and on a subject agreeable to the will of God, they may not always be granted in the manner, in the measure, or in the season that they themselves desire, or even in their imperfect judgment may think nost proper. Many examples might be given of this. A minifter praying for the success of his labors, may be heard in mercy, though it do not happen so foon, and though he can. not see it fo clearly, as it is natural for hiin to desire. He may have many feals of his ministry, although he meet with disappointment in some of those on whom he looked with the most favorable eye. A parent may pray for the salvation of his children, and his desires may have gone up with acceptance before the throne, although the accomplishment be yet far distant, and they seem, for the time, to incrcafe unto more ungodliness. An afiliated person may have actually obtained the sanctified improve. ment of his affliction, although he cannot yet perceive the ends of Divine Providence in it, the comfortable discovery of which may be a feast reserved for him at fome, future season; or, in general, a mercy may be granted with ad. vantage and increase, thouglı it be suspended for a time.
In this interval, however, the Christian's eyes may be ready to fail with looking long; he may be in danger of cealing his application, or abating his fervor, through despair of success. Therefore we have many exhortations in scripture to perseverance and importunity in prayer. We are exhorted to pray without ceasing, and to continue inftant in prayer. Our Saviour, Luke xviii. 1. spoke a parable on purpose to teach men, that they ought always to pray, and not to faint: Heb. X. 36, 37. “ For ye have “ need of patience; that after ye have done the will of " God, ye might receive the promise. For yet a little “ while, and he that shall come will come, and will not " tarry." Habakkuk ii. 3. “For the vision is yet for an " appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not “ lie : though it tarry, wait for it, because it will surely “come, it will not tarry.” To which passage I shall only add Lamentations, chap. iii. 25, 26. “ The Lord is good “ unto them that wait for him, to the soul that feeketh “ him. It is good that a man should both hope and quiet“ ly wait for the falvation of the Lord.”
I Thall conclude this head by observing, that all these obstructions are at the direction and disposal of Providence, for the trial of the faith and patience of believers ; and therefore their perseverance under, and constancy in opposition to them, is, with great propriety, considered as an imitation of the patriarch Jacob in his wrestling with God.
Before proceeding to the remaining part of this subject, suffer me to make a practical improvement of what hath been already said. And,
1. Let us hence learn the infinite grace and condefcenfion of God, who not only admits his people to communion with him, but invites and encourages them to the most pressing importunity, and even, to speak fo, to of. fer a holy violenice to him. The reasons of this will be more fully opened in the next discourse. In the mean time, let us make it the subject of wonder and praise. Well may we say with Job, chap. vii. 17, 18. “ What is man, " that thou shouldst magnify him ? and that thou shouldft “, set thine heart upon him and that thou shouldst visit “ him every morning, and try him every moment ?” This is the dignity of human nature indeed, not from
what he is in himself, but what he may be by union with God through Christ; for through him we have all accefs by one Spirit unto the Father. And if nearness to God is so great a privilege, who would not covet it? who would not cultivate it ? Surely all but those who, to their final condemnation, disbelieve and despise it.
2. Let us learn from what hath been said, to defend the exercises of piety, and particularly this honorable pri. vilege of the saints, from the scorn and reproach of the enemies of vital religion. I am abundantly sensible, that there are some, and some amongst ourselves, who treat this fubject with contempt and disdain, and look upon a believer's wrestling with God in prayer, his being fome. times in, and fometimes not in a frame for his service, as the raving and incoherent effusions of weakness and enthufiasm. This is not only an evidence of their being them. felves strangers to true religion, but is indeed directly contrary to found judgment and reason. I have laid down to you the meaning and subject of this wrestling and im. portunity in prayer; and is there any thing more cleurly founded upon truth, nature, and experience ? Hear, ye anbelievers; might I not transfer every particular, and illustrate it in the intercourse of man with man? If you had a favor to ask of another, and were sensible that you had done him a great, recent, and unprovoked injury, would not this fill you with jealousy? would it not keep you at a distance ? would it not make you, as the common saying is, afraid to look him in the face? If he had carried himself as your enemy, and seemed in many instances, to fet himself in opposition to you; would not this give you even more than suspicion and uncertainty as to the issue of your application? If by the suggestion of his enemies, you were made to believe him resentful and implacable ;would not this extinguish your hope, and break up all correspondence? If your own heart were naturally too proud to intreat, or too careless to give attendance, would not the suit be neglected? Or if you had prefented your petition, and for a long tract of time no answer was returned; would you not give up all hopes of it as forgotten or rejected ? Is not this an image of the state of the Christian in many instances ? And therefore, if prayer is a part of natural religion, if it is a matter of duty or neceflity at all, it must often have the above difficulties to overcome, and, on that account, be justly considered as a species of wrefiling with God. And why should the Christian's being in or out of frame for his duty to God, be made the subject of derision? Is there not something similar to it as to every object of study or appli. cation ? Are there not some seasons when you say, your mind lies to your book, your work, or even your play, and then it goes on sweetly and pleasantly? Are there not others, when it is against the grain, and then every trifle is a difficuity, and even the air is a burden. If you consider these things, you must be sensible, that all to whom eternity is the highest concern, and therefore religion their chief care, must be attentive to the state of their hearts to. wards God. And if this is the case, every thing, whether inward or outward, that promotes or hinders their acquaintance with him, will appear to them of the utmost moment. The truth is, whoever takes the liberty to despise and ridicule the concern of serious persons about communion with God, must excuse me for saying, because it is my deliberate judgment, either that they are enemies to religion in their hearts, or that they are wholly ignorant of the important fubject.
3. As we would defend the duty above explained from the scoffs of infidels, let us also guard it from abuse, and distinguish it from any corruption that may pretend, or may be thought to resemble it. Particularly, let us beware of allowing in ourselves, or approving in others, any grofs indecent familiarity, either of speech or carriage. You see, my brethren, that wrestling with God arises from a deep impreffion of the infinite and unspeakable importance of the blessings in prospect, and their absolute ne. cellity to the petitioner. This will make him still insist, and urge his request, and, as it were, refuse to let go his hold. But it is also constantly attended with a sense of the holiness of God's nature, and the greatness of his power;. which, when set home upon the wounded conscience, is often the principal cause of the distress. Is there not then the justest reason for earnestness and concern! But is it